“Gutting”

American-in-London Mike Wendling (@mwendling) tweeted out this image yesterday:

It was in reference to the (American) football team Buffalo Bills, but that doesn’t matter. What matters, as Wendling pointed out, was the word “gutting.” I’ve long been aware of “gutted” (meaning devastated) as a NOOB — and Lynne Murphy even chose it as her 2016 UK-to-US word of the year — but I had not noticed American use of the gerund form, applied to an event that causes one to feel gutted.

The word is a little hard to search for (“gutting knife” and the process of eviscerating a fish, a building, or voting rights keep coming up) but I was able to establish that the Buffalo News Headline wasn’t a one-off. Just a couple of weeks ago, a New York Times critic said an album by the rapper Saba confronts “gutting life challenges: the anxiety of generational poverty and the depths of survivor’s guilt.”

And there are these U.S. tweets, the first about the death of musician Tom Smith, the second about the death of pets:

15 thoughts on ““Gutting”

  1. Hmmm… I wonder whether this is truly a Britishism.

    “Gutted” meaning disappointed is, of course, well established in BrE, “gutting” meaning disappointing much less so in my estimation. And on those occasions when “gutting” is used in this way, my sense is that it’s much more likely to be used predicatively (e.g. “I couldn’t believe what was happening; it was absolutely gutting”) than attributively (e.g. “gutting news”, “gutting life challenges”, etc.).

  2. While living in Britain, and now while reading these examples, I’ve noticed that gutted/gutting is used for far more ordinary events by Brits than by Americans. It does not surprise me to hear “gutting” with regard to deaths in the U.S. I think the term will really have made the leap once Americans start saying it when sending their regrets for a party or noting a team’s loss.

  3. As a Brit, “gutting” + noun looks unidiomatic. It is generally used as in the last example above: “It was absolutely gutting to lose the match”.

  4. 2016 word? This confuses me; “Gutted” for emotionally devastated has been in use in the US since before I was born over half a century ago. My mom (born 1928) used it routinely. “Gutting” as an adjective does seem much less common and a little awkward though.

    1. I’d be interested, and a bit surprised, if you could find a printed example of U.S. use before the 1990s. And Lynne Murphy’s choice of it for word of the year in 2016 doesn’t mean it arrived here then, just that it reached a sort of critical mass of popularity, probably due to reaction to the U.S. election.

      1. Well ngram does show it going far back in American English but of course most of those could be fish guts related. There was a spike around WW II, I wonder if some Americans brought it back after the war in a broader sense. Can’t account for the lack of printed examples though. My mom grew up in Iowa during the FDR administration. The large increase in more recent years I imagine is that after Reagan we started often using “gutted” to refer to budgets or company head-counts, as the GOP slashed taxes and gradually dismantled so many programs, and as mass layoffs and bailouts occurred.

      2. FWIW, I don’t recall “gutted” (in the sense under discussion here) being in use in the UK before c. 20-30 years ago; it seemed to be one of those buzz words that shot to prominence from out of nowhere.

  5. In the UK there’s also “gutty”. An example would be “It was fun at first but it got a bit gutty after a couple hours of digging”.

      1. Maybe narrower than that. I used to read/hear it a lot during the 80s but mainly around the off-road scene. I’m guessing it may have died out or gone out of fashion

  6. I am very much of Rob’s point of view and decided to investigate briefly. What I write below suggests – on the basis of a tiny sample – that gutting + NOUN is known and used in BrE, but less so than elsewhere.

    If I were paid to do this, I would investigate further, but other necessities summon me.

    Feeling a bit queasy after reading through ‘gutting + NOUN’ in a corpus, which gives you lots of fish, chickens and abstract systems, and a few of the kind we are interested in here. In this particular corpus, compiled in 2014, out of 241 such colligations, there are 12, with the following collocations: feeling x 3, experience x 2, result x 2, then one each of aspect, majesty, reprimand, prose and upset. Of those 12, 4 each are Irish or US, 1 is unknown, 2 are Brit and 1 is Canadian.

  7. British speaker; English East Midlands: I’ve never heard ‘gutting’ used in that way.
    Memory stimulus for older readers: Gutta-percha, a well known word 100 years ago, still echoed around my early childhood.
    For me it conjures up pith helmets, elephants foot umbrella stands, talk of The Great War from those who remembered it well(Footballers’ battalions, the Camel Corps, etc), mango ice-cream out in India, East of Suez, and a dozen other associations which would baffle the young of today.

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